January 25, 2021

Maytag Pool is draining money

Leak costs city $1,300 a week during slow swim season, pool to close by Aug. 10

To no one’s surprise, attendance is low at Maytag Pool this year, but there’s an even bigger problem that is forcing the city to throw money down the drain.

For the past month or so, crews have struggled to fill and repair a leak in the box below the deep end of the pool, underneath the floor drain. Water from the pool is escaping into the rock below the concrete, flowing into the subdrain system and then discharging into the southeast corner of Maytag Park, city officials said.

Still, the pool has been open to the public following elected officials’ decision.

Newton Public Works Director Jody Rhone told city council members July 20 the patch material used to plug the hole gets sucked down into the concrete and fails. Staff has done this three times, costing the city more than $3,000. Crews also have to constantly refill the pool, and have done so six times.

This, too, costs money. The week before Rhone reported to the council in a staff report, public works spent $2,700 to fill the leaky basin. Since then, crews had patched the pool again and it has so far slowed the rate of the water leaving the pool. But the city is spending an excess of $1,300 a week, strictly to fill the pool.

“If we cannot keep the pool full, then the skimmers don’t work — which doesn’t take the leaves and the bugs or the things off the surface of the water,” Rhone said. “Currently, we’re able to do that, but I wanted you all to be aware that we are spending, at minimum, $1,300 or $1,350 a week just on water to keep it full.”

Newton Community Services Manager Brian Laube said costs have “by far exceeded” what would be considered a normal pool season. Typically, staff spends between $4,000 to $5,000 for water during a regular year. The city’s latest bills report $8,000 to $10,000 spent on water, Laube said.

After considerable debate from a split city council about whether to close the pool for the 2020 season, it was up to the mayor to decide in a June 1 meeting. Newton Mayor Mike Hansen voted to open Maytag Pool, believing the state restrictions placed on public pools would be lifted soon.

“This has been a very difficult thing for me to consider and weigh through,” Hansen said June 1. “But I believe the advantages of allowing our citizens to utilize that facility outweighs the closure of that thing for this entire season. So therefore, I am casting my vote to open the pool for the 2020 swimming season.”

Regardless of the leak, Maytag Pool has been open for about four or five weeks. Attendance is down, and Laube suspects it is due to the COVID-19 pandemic. An average of 104 people per day are visiting the pool participate in lap swimming, paid recreational swimming and toddler time.

Laube said it’s a 34 percent decrease compared to last year, which was considered a down year. Some numbers, he added, may be skewed since the city is not selling pool passes. Concession sales are down 74 percent. Walk-up or daily ticket sales are down 63 percent. Daily revenue is down 67 percent.

Staff at Maytag Pool have avoided infection to COVID-19. Laube expects to run into problems with staffing during the second week of August. A lot of colleges and universities are having their students return one week earlier, so Laube anticipates some of his lifeguards will have their last day sooner than normal.

“Once we get into that second week of August, we’re really going to start losing staff to not only college but other activities,” Laube said. “Jody (Rhone) and I have had a lot of discussions and we don’t really have a set date about when we recommend or when we think we should close for the year.”

The two hoped council could provide some guidance. In the past, staff have said the pool does not typically turn a profit, but it is making significantly less this year. Councilperson Mark Hallam proposed the pool close after Aug. 9, which is the last scheduled reservation. This would have moved the dog swim to Aug. 10. The city confirmed Thursday, July 23, that the pool will close Aug. 10.

“That would equal, essentially, almost four more weeks of being open,” Laube said. “So that would put us halfway through our season as of today (July 20).”

Other council members seemed in favor of Hallam’s proposal. Barring any unforeseen and severe mechanical difficulties, the Newton City Council was in consensus that Maytag Pool’s last day for regular swim operations this season would be Aug. 9. Once the pool is drained, city staff will likely schedule repairs.

Rhone said the city would start working on a set of plans to hire a contractor to remove and rebuild the pool’s concrete structure. The earlier staff can schedule the project, the better, he said. Because many pools did not open this year, other municipalities have taken advantage of the time to prepare maintenance work.

“So we will get that scheduled just as soon as possible,” Rhone said.

In addition to the leak, Rhone added the city would plan more maintenance for the joint sealing of the pool. Prior to the start of this season, the city had “completely redone the deep end.” Now the rest of the pool can be attended to. Staff will also re-paint the pool.

Most of these projects are being paid for using leftover bond funds from the waterslide rehabilitation. Laube said he will be reaching out to aquatics engineers. Because Maytag Pool is 26 years old, he wants to propose a mechanical systems study for council as a capital improvement plan item.

“Which will ultimately lead to (what) I’d like to call a ‘refreshening’ of the pool — a project where we extend the pool’s life maybe 15, 20, 25 years,” Laube said. “Short of having to do a complete replacement of it.”

Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or cbraunschweig@newtondailynews.com